All over the city
Aug 5, 2014
|A busy day in Prague. It starts with a breakfast that was so so – no scrambled eggs, little selection, the only fruit some sliced watermelon… I ate anyhow but Alice nibbled – she wasn’t feeling too well. Back to the room and Alice decided to stay in for the morning tour. I gathered the laundry and found a small cleaners and they would do all out stuff (11 pounds) for $20. The hotel charged $4 for one t-shirt.
After dropping that off I wandered through a farmers market that was set up in the square. Lots of local fruits and vegetables as well as many crafts and other foods. But I was off to find my WW2 Prague tour. After asking at three places I discovered it was “by the clock.” Since I had about a half hour I decided to wander. Found out that I was all mixed up yesterday. The opera house was actually the Municipal Building, the Old Town Market was really the new town market, and I was exactly opposite of where I thought I was.
In any event I soon found myself in souvenir heaven (or hell) Shop after shop all offering the same thing. Prague Crystal is very popular as are wooden models of the astronomical clock and the normal magnets, “art” works, lighters, and “jewellery”. Then into Wenceslaus Square – packed to the edges with tourists. I soon left to find the tour.
At about 9:50 a young guy with a thick accent showed up with a “English WW2 Tour” button on. About ten people gathered together and we were off. After a brief introduction to the takeover of the country in 1938 and the Nazi occupation (they paraded right where we were standing) we were off. Of course, we first walked to Wenceslaus Square and through to the Jewish District. There we were told about the prosecution of the Jews and other undesirables, how the first chief of the security office in Prague was too soft and was replaced by Reinhard Heydrich who became one of the main architects of the holocaust. Agents were parachuted in to assassinate him and they joined with the resistance.
Heydrich would ride without escort so on a corner they tried to shoot him – but the gun jammed. Then they threw a hand grenade and that fatally wounded him. There was harsh reprisal – initially they were to kill ten percent of the population of Prague, but were eventually satisfied with just a few families. There was finally a traitor who gave away the position of the assassins in a church. They were there with six other men and after a lengthy struggle they finally committed suicide rather than be captured.
Then along the walk the guide pointed out small brass squares – each with a name and destination. They were the names of Jewish residents taken to concentration camps. There were over 30,000 in the city. Then we saw the Jewish cemetery – where bodies were buried 4 or 5 deep over the centuries because there was no new land for them. Before WW2 they made up almost 10% of the population of Prague. Now less than 0.1%.
The guide then gave us directions on how to get back to the starting point and either I didn’t hear right or… Anyhow, I got lost and ended up who knows where. Luckily I had a map and the streets are marked fairly well so I eventually made my way back to familiar territory and returned to the hotel at 12:45 – well within the time I told Alice I would be back.
After a couple minutes we headed back out to the farmer’s market and picked up a few trinkets then to the meeting point for the afternoon tour. We were a bit early so looked around for lunch – we had breaded chicken on a bun – not great.
Boarded the bus and wandered through town looking at various historical sites that have all blurred together. Then to Prague Castle – the largest in Europe – actually encompassing a town. There were many architectural details all with some history, such as the two tailed lion – one for loyalty and the other for bravery. We were also shown the flag flying over the castle – a sign that the president was in residence.
The most impressive part was St. Vita’s (Vitus) Cathedral begun about 1350. A huge Gothic structure with amazing stained glass and a huge interior. There were many unique gargoyles on the roof as well. We spent some time admiring the building and looking at the many facets – such as a huge mosaic of judgment day whose artist is unknown – but those shown in hell were priests. As we moved down from the top of the hill we passed castle guards and had a spectacular view of the city.
Back on the bus we drove over to do our river cruise on the Vitava River (which flows into the Elbe). As we got out of the bus it started to rain… hard. There were a couple of umbrellas but not enough. Alice got to shelter with the guide but I stood in the rain – and afterwards remembered I had a hat in my bag. Sigh. Anyway, onto the boat and up and down the river. Of course, the rain stopped as soon as we got on the boat. Lots of tour boats and many interesting sights, such as the 14th century Charles Bridge with its magnificent statues and arches.
Off the boat and we walked back into the Jewish district and were told the story of the golum – and saw the reconstructed synagogue that was more an historical site than a place of worship. Then to Wenceslaus Square to see the astronomical clock then the tour was over. We asked the guide for directions but I knew where we were – for some reason Alice didn’t trust me so we followed the guide back to the main street.
It started raining again so we bought an umbrella and headed up the street. As we passed the Municipal Building we were handed a flyer for a concert of Mozart and Dvorak so decided that would be the evening rather than the Ghost Tour. After a short break we went out to get tickets but it was too late for dinner, so we had some chocolate!
The theater in the Municipal building was art deco at its height. Statues, paintings, stained glass, carvings… Very opulent. The theater was only about ½ full and the seven strings came out and played for about an hour. Very well done. But we were very tired so off to get a late dinner at the Brassier (very good chicken soup and Caesar salads), then back to the hotel. For me a very long day.
Tomorrow to Terezin concentration camp and a folk dinner in the evening. Who knows what the afternoon will bring?